Gender Focus with JUDITH KONAYUMA
THE new Minister of Gender, Victoria Kalima has an enormous task – to bring more women in governance.
This is the task she was given by President Edgar Lungu when she was being sworn in at State House last week.
The President directed Ms Kalima to bring new impetus to the participation of women in governance and economic development of the country.
The President acknowledged that women are still lagging behind in achieving gender equality long after the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women.
The President assured that Government was sincere in its quest to achieve gender parity as demonstrated by the number of women that have been appointed to various positions.
The issue of gender parity will remain with us for some time but it is commendable that now it is being considered at a higher level.
That the President has recognised the need to achieve gender parity is now a matter of expediency by those who have the powers to implement the order.
And so the task falls on Ms Kalima as she takes up her portfolio to drive the gender agenda.
There are a number of gender issues that affect mostly women in Zambia and the world over and gender parity is a subset of the whole.
From a casual scan, it can be seen that gender parity is a serious issue at most levels where it matters the most, whether decision-making or otherwise. It is common to find more men than women in a number of places.
By making the directive, President Lungu wants to see a change in the lopsided complexion so that more women find themselves in places that are dominated by men or where they are supposed to be.
This is a push towards making the number of women at par with that of men in a number of spheres of life. It is also a recognition that women are as capable as men in contributing to the development of the nation.
We have said it here before that women, given the opportunity, have the ability as much as men, to contribute to the well-being of the nation.
But when they are not given that opportunity, their unexploited potential will only be shut up within them and it is the nation that loses out.
It is agreed that gender parity is exacerbated by the deeply held beliefs and attitudes that exist in our communities, such beliefs that regard women as being lower than men.
It begins with members of the communities to discard these retrogressive beliefs. Mothers and fathers should encourage their girls and show them that they can also make it just like boys.
Parents should see their children as women who are being prepared to take over responsibility and do everything within their powers to urge them to go on.
For example, for some parents, given a choice between sending a boy or girl to school, they would choose the boy over the girl on grounds that the girl is only good for marrying off.
Sometimes, even if a girl is good at something, consideration would be given to the boy because society considers him more superior than the girl.
Development specialists recognise the fact that development that excludes women out of the development process is not development at all.
In line with the international conventions that Zambia has signed, Ms Kalima, as tasked by President Lungu, should drive the process towards gender parity.
It is not a one-day achievement and this is why the movement towards that goal should be accelerated. There has already been a start but the momentum should not be lost.
Therefore, in carrying out her task, Ms Kalima should focus on a number of sectors such as education, health, economy and the like.
The education sector provides one of the areas where we find skewed gender parity. The tilt is in favour of boys. Today, we find more boys than girls in a number of schools in our country.
This is the beginning of inequality in the education sector. Despite this tilt, the number of girls continues to dwindle as they proceed to higher grades.
A number of factors such as the drop-out rate, which is higher for girls and the inability of most of them to attain higher marks, tend to work against them.
And so the number of girls gets narrower at the top, with fewer of them reach the apex while the number of boys who get there still remains higher.
Take, for instance, technical schools. Initially, they were meant for boys only but the inclusion of girls later has not done much to change the situation. Fewer girls make it to technical schools.
It is not uncommon to find one girl among boys in a class at a technical school. Where is gender parity?
It starts from here and by the time these boys and girls reach the professional level, the girls are outnumbered. These are some of the issues Ms Kalima has to deal with in tackling gender parity.
From another perspective, it is believed that the nursing profession is for women, well, maybe because the pioneer, Florence Nightingale, was a female. Yes, she pioneered care-giving but that does not mean a man cannot take care of a patient.
Today we are seeing some men getting into the nursing profession, but their numbers are still small. There are surely some more men who are called to be nurses, and why should they ignore this noble profession?
The number of women involved in unpaid work is more than that of men, and this is another area of consideration by Ms Kalima. Government, as policy implementers, should move towards reducing this gap by, say, recognising the unpaid work the women do.
As the President directed, let Ms Kalima now get down to work. It will take long, but a step made towards that direction today is part of the efforts at overcoming gender parity.
Gender Focus with JUDITH KONAYUMA